I Don’t Think It Gets Easier

May 17, 2009

Well I’ve gone and gotten myself all emotionally attached to a dying patient and her family again.  Her name is Pam and she’s 49 years old. She has metastatic breast cancer, but when she was admitted to the hospital just a couple of weeks ago she was alert and walking around. Within a few days she had lost the use of her legs, and after another week she was bedbound. She was in denial until a few days ago, hoping for a miracle. We tried to get her transferred to hospice, but she kept making excuses not to go. Finally her doctor had a serious talk with her, and the rest of that day she was in tears. The last thing she said to me coherently, in between sobs, was how happy she was to have had me as her nurse.

A day later and she stopped talking and focusing. She developed the death rattle in her throat which is so much more disturbing to the family than to the patient. Pam’s husband and mother have been constantly at her side. Since I’ve been her nurse for so long and am always in and out of the room, her mother called me “one of the family.” I’ve been thinking about her all weekend. It keeps me up at night.

Today I spent a good amount of time talking to Pam’s mother. As we talked, she brushed Pam’s hair. I commented on how pretty it is: a deep, rich red color. Her mother said to me, as she began to cry, “I always wanted a little girl. Even when I was pregnant I knew I was having a girl, and I knew she would have red hair.” I couldn’t help myself; I started to cry too.

We walked out of the room and she looked me in the eye and said, “How long do you think she has? Honestly.” I told her, honestly, that it could be at any time. We talked about how the world isn’t right; mothers shouldn’t  have to watch their daughters die like this. She gave me a big hug and walked off to make some tough phone calls.

You know that feeling you get when a beloved pet dies? Afterwards you think that you’ll never get another one because it’s not worth the sadness of losing them. Confronted with the angish that I saw today, I had to fight off that feeling. I had to keep telling myself that it’s worth it to love, it’s worth it to bring children into the world. And it absolutely is. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t continue to struggle with these emotions.

I have to say, death really sucks. Cancer sucks. In fact, I hate it. I just want it to go away forever. Thank God it will.

Posted in: personal

Comments on I Don’t Think It Gets Easier

  1. 1

    From dad:

    you’re making me start my week with tears in my eyes.

  2. 2

    From Krista:

    I admire your work with patients and their families. I work with cancer patients and families all day too, but my work is over the phone which I believe is much easier to handle than face-to-face. These families are lucky to have you!

  3. 3

    From Mindy:

    My parents have had various medical issues over the last four years, and I must say that a good nurse is an immense blessing during times like these. Thanks for being a good one! What a ministry you have, Kathleen, despite the hardships–you encourage and comfort these families in the heat of the moment, and that’s not easy to do. I greatly admire nursing, and this is just one reason why.

  4. 4

    From Julienne:

    Spending time with someone who is dying is trying and taxing but immeasurable to the person you’re spending time with. My grandmother just passed away and the nurses who attended her could not have been more loving and thoughtful to both her and our family.

    You’re there to touch people. You’re there for a reason and it sounds like God’s using you.

  5. 5

    From Uncle David:

    Ditto, tearing up thinking of the times with my Mom and Dad. Very hard stuff.

  6. 6

    From Rae:

    Thank you for loving your patients, even though it just ends up hurting you. I have no idea what this really costs you, so I really have no more to say… but thank you.

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